My Daughter Survived But Others May Not: Pass SSB 5140 to Protect Pregnant Patients

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
Lin Skavdahl’s daughter Alison experienced a life-threatening delay in care while miscarrying at a Bellingham hospital in 2013. Lin never wants this to happen to another family. That’s why she supports The Protecting Pregnant Patients Act, SSB 5140, which would ensure that doctors and nurses can provide timely, medically necessary care when a patient’s health or life is at risk.

My daughter Alison was pregnant with her second child and just starting her second trimester—a milestone that usually means you can begin to feel more comfortable anticipating a new baby’s arrival. It was different for Alison.

She experienced some spotting early in her pregnancy, and then came a horrible week when Alison rushed to the emergency room multiple times with heavy bleeding, pain and cramping. She was sent home each time after the doctors confirmed that there was a still a fetal heartbeat. My wife and I spent those days sleeping on a mattress on the floor of Alison and her husband Ric’s living room and taking care of our 2-year-old granddaughter.

My cautious, thoughtful daughter, who made careful choices about what she ate and drank while pregnant, refused any pain medicine for fear of harming her baby.
Early one morning, Ric called. I raced to the hospital, where I found Alison overwhelmed by excruciating pain, and her fever was not responding to medication. My grown daughter looked small and pale in the bed. I took her hand. She asked me not to let go.
The doctor told Alison and Ric that they needed to focus on Alison's survival. The pregnancy was no longer viable, the doctor explained. Alison needed surgery or she could die.
My daughter's survival? The doctor’s words shocked me. How had this happened? Later I overheard the doctor ask why the emergency room had not called him hours earlier.
At the time, none of us knew that the hospital’s policy only allows pregnancy terminations in very limited circumstances. We did not know that even as Alison suffered life-threatening complications, the treatment recommended by her doctor would be delayed.
Before she could have surgery, the doctor told me, the hospital's board of ethics needed to meet and grant him permission to proceed. The delay made no sense to me. My daughter was in danger and her doctor said surgery was necessary. If the board did not approve, we would have to take Alison to a hospital a couple of hours away.
The board did eventually decide to allow the surgery. As Alison prepared to leave for the operating room, Ric helped her to the bathroom, where she miscarried.
In the elevator on the way to the surgical floor, I heard the doctor tell Alison she was septic. My heart was in my throat. She survived the surgery, but I will always remember how close we came to losing her, and how little I could do about it. 
I still feel angry, frightened and sad when I think about Alison’s experience. Hospitals should not be allowed to set policies that put people's lives and health at risk.
Alison suffered, in pain and in danger, while an ethics board debated what her doctor already knew.
This should not happen anywhere to anyone’s daughter. Regardless of where someone lives, they should have access to the care they need—the care my daughter needed.